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Unlike the other nationalities of Soviet Central Asia who are ethnically Turkic, the Tadzhiks trace their origins primarily to the Persians who settled the area as early as the sixth century B.C. and were part of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. From the seventh century A.D. until the fourteenth century, the Tadziks were overrun, as were the other people of Central Asia with whom the Tadzhiks developed a common civilization, first by the Arabs and then by other invaders. By the fourteenth century, the Tadzhiks were distinguished from the other peoples of Central Asia primarily by their language and the fact that they were sedentary, not nomadic like their neighbors. The name Tadzhik is derived from a word used to distinguish the Turkic people from Iranian subjects of the Arab Empire. By the sixteenth century, however, it had come to mean a trader from Central Asia or simply a sedentary person.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, the Tadzhiks were under Uzbek rule, and by the eighteenth century most of Tadzhik territory was under the khanate of Bukhara. The Afghan conquest of Tadzhik territory from the south began in the mid-eighteenth century, and Russian expansion into Tadzhik lands from the north followed a century later. By the end of the nineteenth century, northern Tadzhikistan was under Russian rule, southern Tadzhikistan continued under the khanate of Bukhara, and the remaining Tadzhik territory was within Afghanistan.

Russian conquest of Tadzhikistan and subsequent immigration of Russian settlers had a minimal effect on traditional Tadzhik society. The revolutionary movement in Tadzhikistan was composed of Russians, not Tadzhiks. Therefore, Soviet power was established in 1918 with little resistance, and northern Tadzhikistan was included in the newly created Turkestan Autonomous Republic. Nevertheless, when the Red Army invaded the khanate of Bukhara in 1921, it met with fierce resistance from the growing basmachi movement. The movement continued until 1924 when the Tadzhik Autonomous Republic was created and incorporated into the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1929 the Tadzhik Autonomous Republic was made a union republic.

In 1989 the Tadzhiks numbered about 4.2 million, three-fourths of whom lived in the Tadzhik Republic. They were divided into the Tadzhiks proper (the Tadzhiks of the plain) and the Pamiris (the Tadzhiks of the mountains). Most of the Pamiris lived in the GornoBadakhshan Autonomous Oblast, located in the western Pamirs in the southeastern Tadzhik Republic. The Soviet census of 1989, however, did not distinguish between the two groups. Over 900,000 Tadzhiks also lived in the Uzbek Republic. In 1989 the Tadzhiks made up only about 62 percent of the Tadzhik Republic's population. The largest national minority living in the Tadzhik Republic was the Uzbeks, followed by the Russians.

The most distinguishing characteristic of the Tadzhiks is their language, which is closely related to Persian and belongs to the Southwest Iranian group of languages. The Tadzhik alphabet, like the alphabets of Turkic languages, was Arabic until 1930, Latin in the next decade, and finally Cyrillic in 1940. Almost 98 percent of the Tadzhiks regarded Tadzhik as their native language.

The Tadzhiks were among the least urbanized of all the nationalities in the Soviet Union. In 1987 about 67 percent of the Tadzhik Republic's population lived outside urban areas. It was also the only republic to show a decline in the percentage of urban population between 1970 and 1987. The Tadzhik Republic had only two large cities in 1989, the capital, Dushanbe (595,000), and Leninabad (165,000).

The Tadzhiks rated very low in their level of education. Although they had officially achieved 99 percent literacy by 1971, the Tadzhiks ranked sixteenth among the seventeen major nationalities both in the number of students in institutions of higher learning and in the number of scientific workers per thousand.

In 1983 the Tadzhiks were the most underrepresented among the nationalities in their share of CPSU members and very underrepresented in the Central Committee of the party.

Data as of May 1989

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